Miami developer Terra Group LLC will avoid facing a former employee’s lawsuit claiming she was terminated as retaliation for her internal complaints about sexist and degrading behavior by a male subordinate.
The Third District Court of Appeal affirmed a trial court order dismissing Beatriz Buade’s lawsuit against Terra Group, which argued she failed to exhaust her administrative remedies before suing.
The three-judge panel noted Buade filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Florida Commission on Human Relations after she was fired and before suing, but the court concluded her filing was incomplete.
She didn’t check a retaliation box on her filing, didn’t specify she was terminated the previous year and didn’t include a narrative to support her claim, the unanimous panel concluded.
“Terra’s alleged retaliation occurred before Buade filed her EEOC charge, so Buade was required to specifically include a factual narrative supporting her retaliation charge, which she did not do,” Judge Ivan Fernandez wrote. “Buade not only failed to indicate in the charge that she was terminated the year before, but also that any adverse action was taken against her by her employer or that she was retaliated against in any way.”
Judges Richard Suarez and Edwin Scales III agreed.
Buade was with Terra from 2004 to 2010 as a contract administrator and customer service supervisor. Starting in 2005, she accused team member Carlos Hollender of speaking to her in a demeaning way, sometimes in front of others, cursing at her and refusing to do work she assigned. She claimed Hollender was rude to her but not to male supervisors. She reported she was being sexually harassed in 2007.
“On one occasion when Buade confronted him, he said, ‘Fuck you, I don’t have to take directions from you,’ ” according to the Miami-Dade Circuit Court complaint filed in 2012.
Buade’s attorney, Christopher Sharp, said the appellate decision was based on procedure and not the facts of the case.
“ It was a pretty simple legal issue where most of the case law and the precedent was clearly in our favor. I think that the court took a very narrow view of the evidence and the law,” said Sharp of Sharp Law Firm in Fort Lauderdale.
Sharp said he is leaning toward seeking a Third DCA rehearing.
While working for Terra, Buade reported Hollender to her supervisor, Michael Piazza. He reassigned Hollender for more than two months before he returned to work on Buade’s team. The opinion said Buade reported allegedly sexist treatment several times over a period of years.
Piazza worked to address the issue, holding several meetings with Hollender, and told Buade “not to worry and that he ‘had (her) back,’ ” according to Buade’s complaint.
On June 4, 2010, Buade emailed Piazza and human resources to say she thought Hollender had difficulty with women in positions of authority. Buade was fired Dec. 10, 2010.
The appeals panel said her EEOC filing also fell short because it failed to draw a connection between her June 4, 2010, email and her termination. Based on case law, the panel said the two events were too far apart to show causality.
“ No temporal proximity exists between when Buade complained via email to Piazza and when Buade was laid off,” Fernandez wrote.
He cited other cases, in one of which the court ruled a three- to four-month gap between a complaint and termination was insufficient to show they were related.
Sharp alleged Hollender was protected by family connections. While Piazza worked to address issues and met with Hollender about his behavior, Sharp said Hollender was the son-in-law of Sergio Grosskopf of the Chateau Group, which worked with Terra and Buade on the 900 Biscayne condominium.
“Because his father-in-law was funding the project, they treated him differently,” Sharp said. “They had meetings with HR and talked about what to do and took the hands-off approach just because of who the guy was.”
Terra’s media relations team deferred to Terra’s attorney, Greenberg Traurig shareholder Ronald Rosengarten in Miami, who didn’t respond by deadline.
Buade filed her EEOC complaint in April 2011. Her lawsuit alleged retaliatory firing and sex discrimination, but she dropped the latter count in 2013.
Circuit Judge Antonio Marin on Aug. 12, 2015, granted the Terra’s motion for judgment and dismissed the case in 2015.
“This was years before the #MeToo movement,” Sharp said. “I think if it had happened say last year, the publicity for the company would have been a lot different and maybe it would have put more pressure on them to do something a little different.”
Terra Group, founded and led by father and son Pedro and David Martin, has developed architecturally notable projects in South Florida such as Glass Miami Beach on Ocean Drive where the 10 units in the 18-story building have floor-to-ceiling glass walls and Miami’s twin, twisting Grove at Grand Bay condominium.